Bombing survivors file compensation claims

Friday, March 15, 2002

CHOKER KARAIZ, Afghanistan -- The stricken old man could barely walk through the rubble of his village. The vision of the torn bodies of women and children was still too real in his mind's eye.

"Every time I walk through here, I see the scene all over again," Mohammad Qasin said Thursday.

Villagers say 52 people, mostly women and children, were killed in the bombing and strafing four months ago that obliterated this isolated hamlet, a few houses ringed by irrigated wheat fields among miles of semi-desert emptiness in southern Afghanistan.

Quiet hamlet wiped out

Now the case of bombed-out Choker Karaiz is one of dozens of U.S. air attacks for which survivors have filed claims for compensation.

"We don't know. God knows," survivor Aziz Ahmed said Thursday when asked why U.S. pilots might have attacked this tiny, mud-walled place one night in late October.

The government of Kandahar province alone has filed more than 70 compensation cases involving U.S. air attacks with the central government in Kabul, provincial spokesman Yusuf Pashtun said Wednesday.

"Hamid Karzai said send them to the Ministry of the Interior," Pashtun said, referring to Afghanistan's interim national leader.

Pashtun said four cases involved multiple deaths in Kandahar villages, with the biggest being Choker Karaiz, 25 miles east of Kandahar city. The rest were cases of single deaths or limited damage here and there in the province, he said. Others, "hard to prove," were not forwarded to Kabul, he said.

The provincial spokesman said he had no information on how the compensation process will work. It could not be learned immediately whether the U.S. government would consider such claims, or whether they would be handled exclusively by the Afghan government or by a joint commission.

Civilians not targeted

Maj. Brad Lowell, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said Thursday he was unaware of any process for Afghans to make claims against the U.S. military.

The Pentagon has said civilians were never deliberately targeted during the bombing in Afghanistan but has acknowledged that some bombs went astray.

Last month, however, the Pentagon acknowledged that U.S. Army forces killed 14 or more Afghans who were neither al-Qaida nor Taliban members during a raid in Uruzgan province in January.

Provincial Gov. Jan Mohammed delivered $1,000 to $2,000 to each dead man's family, as well as a verbal apology relayed on behalf of high-ranking U.S. officials he declined to identify.

The Taliban took a group of foreign reporters to the village in November and claimed 92 people died there. Reporters at the time counted about 15 graves.

The Choker Karaiz raid is not among the incidents the U.S. military is investigating as possibly involving the killing of civilians, U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Martin Compton said Thursday.

Peter Bouckaert, a researcher with the New York-based Human Rights Watch, independently interviewed people in Choker Karaiz in an effort to establish a civilian casualty toll. "We believe that at least 25 and possibly as many as 35 civilians died in this bombing raid," he said.

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